This may not go down well with a lot of people, but the Rwandan government’s clampdown on the spiraling growth of churches in the country is exactly what we need right now.
And like President Paul Kagame, we need to begin asking if these churches are boreholes that give people water and more importantly, do we even have as many factories? Because, it is a mess. A complete mess.
In February this year, 600 churches and reportedly one mosque had been shut down in the nation’s capital, Kigali. The reasons for the shutdown were cited as noise pollution from the activities of the religious organisations and the unsafe nature of the physical buildings. By the end of the month, reporters told the BBC that most of the organisations had been reopened after being cleared by government inspectors.
However, at a National Leadership retreat held in Gabiro in March, President Paul Kagame had expressed his astonishment at the rising number of churches in Rwanda and by April, issued a statement stating that about 6,000 churches had been officially closed down in the country. He also set into motion, a religious institution reform that now demands that preachers must have theological training before opening a church and this is after he or she has received a license to do so.
In addition, faith-based organisations – both churches and mosques – must also obtain government certification that building requirements – such as adequate plumbing and parking -have been met before commencing construction and renew it annually.
Unsurprisingly, Kagame’s government came under fire for what some religious leaders referred to as infringement of religious freedom which he has denied. He insists that the good of the people come first and is the driving force behind the reforms.
From prophets who claim to walk on air and those who spray insecticides directly into the eyes and mouths of their congregation to test the efficacy of their faith to those who order members to eat live insecticides and dissolve fat cells with effervescent exorcism sessions, gone are the days when all we worried about the fanatic religiosity of Nigerians was the increasing spread of what we termed prosperity gospel – a teaching that points to a life of continuous plenty and rosiness once handed over to the Lord. In societies across the continent with increasingly dire economic conditions, high levels of unemployment, high poverty rates, lack of proper medical facilities and functional healthcare systems, the blindsided following of these teachings and acclaimed prophets and preachers isn’t something out of the ordinary. Everyone needs a little bit of cushion from the realities of a sometimes impossible world and life and the most effective cushion isn’t always one that we can hold and touch.
When Christ – the supreme being whom Christians and these self-acclaimed preachers and prophets claim to follow – walked the face of the earth, he came not only to bring salvation but also lay down a new way of living and of life instructing the disciples that by living in the ways that he had shown them, the world will know that they were his. We see that he not only instructed them on how to pray or what ways to worship and how to build their relationship with his father but how to relate with those who were not within their fold, how to relate to instituted authorities, to the government of the day, towards society, cultures and so on. We saw him instruct that taxes be paid, we see the apostles instruct the church not to support laziness and get-rich-quick schemes, we saw him denounce fraud in economic dealings, we saw him use parables to teach economic principles that we employ today. We saw him turn around self-centred, rigid and callous hearts and ways of thinking.
Israel’s leading Jerusalem archaeologists, Hillel Geva of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Israel Exploration Society, based on “archaeological findings estimates that the population of ancient Jerusalem stood at thousands and tens of thousands during many periods of the city’s history. With teeth firmly sunk into the teachings of a man they considered a father in faith, the people lived under what religious scholars referred to as the Era of the Law. Their earnings in cattle and livestock were spent making sacrifices, they had a list of rules they were expected to keep to the letter, a group of religious leaders, the Pharisees, lorded their hypocritical sanctity over the people and I imagine it was a stifling time to have to do all these things to be at good standing with the one whose cushion you needed to deal with the drudgery of everyday life. All around other emerging civilizations, these procedures were replicated and channeled to a myriad of supreme beings – gods of fertility, goddesses of love and so on.
In Antioch, where the apostles were first referred to as Christians, they had conquered the multi-cultural, half a million population of figurine worshipers, bridging gaps between social classes and modes of worship and unifying them under this gospel that they so believed in to be liberating. And it was as evident in how widespread their influence grew and how much succor their activities brought – a healthier spirit and mind and body (god and goddess worshipers were known to cut and mutilate their bodies as an act of worship, for instance), a sturdier purse not spent making endless, repeated sacrifices, a movement that was as inclusive enough pulling people from all walks of life, of all trades and showing them a better and healthier way to live and exist.
In Old Testament times and with people like Queen Esther, Daniel, Joseph who became the governor of Egypt and saved the lives of God’s people by inspired wisdom that helped him make wise economic decisions in foresight of an impending famine, we see men and women who orchestrated healthy societies that boasted of effective economies, legal systems, policies and so on.
Like the early church, with the number of religious organisations that abound in our country alone, our deeply religious continent isn’t one that should be wallowing in poverty and lack and relying on the West for continued aid and assistance. But here we here instead.
Here we are with multi-million dollar church buildings and celebrity religious leaders who command a group of awe-struck followers with very little focus on whom they worship and even less focus on how much impact they should be driving in the society and communities around them
Here we are with pastors who can make a phone call to heaven, demand outrageous financial donations which they claim are being used to serve the community, pastors who turn their members into mobile chariots because their holy feet can’t touch the unholy Nigerian or Kenyan or Ugandan or South African soil while their immediate communities and countries continue to wallow in poverty – both mentally and materially.
From Ghana to South Africa to Kenya, governments are beginning to see that there is now absolute need to come into and bring some much needed sanity into the religious spheres in their climes. It is said that absolute power corrupts absolutely and this is clearly evident in the manner in which religious institutions have conducted themselves over the years. Even the presence of self-governing bodies like the Christian Association of Nigeria has done very little to regulate and bring to justice these men of god who are clearly and blatantly ruining the lives and efforts of individuals and families peddling prosperity gospels, harmful dogmas that do nothing for personal or nation building, and signs/wonders to the gullible majority.
I was speaking with someone recently and he asked me to imagine for a second that even a third of the church buildings in Lagos, alone, were replaced by industries – manufacturing industries, economic hubs where sustainable wealth could be created on a continuous basis. I am asking you to do the same. According to him, and something worth dwelling on, is first the amount of land mass that is dedicated to erecting massive church structures every now and then. I am asking you to imagine that the passionate and blind devotion to these men of god are channeled into building businesses or creating and fostering the kind of national mentality that saw fans from Japan cleaning up the stadium game after game. I am asking you to imagine what will happen if we started to learn to not use our religion as a crutch for a limping that we can fix, that we should be fixing if we are anything like the being to whom we pledge allegiance.
But I believe that until then, there needs to be a quick interference in the escalating manner that things have gone out of hand. We certainly do not need one more church building springing up in any corner of the country than is already available. And we certainly need to be able to certify that these men and women are fit enough, psychologically and otherwise to be entrusted with this all important aspect of the life of an individual. So, yes to theology school. A Catholic Priest trains for at least five years and is required to continue that training even after he is ordained and heading a parish and this is not to say that this path is superior to any other, but if we all woke up one morning and decided that God had appeared to us in dreams and set out to set up physical congregations everywhere, wouldn’t we be thrown into another Babel? Yes, to licenses. How is it that we question the ability of our president to be president, or the track record of the Finance Minister to hold the position she has, but we never think to question how able our religious leaders are, what enables them hold sway over a facet of our life that we value as much as our faith?
President Kagame says his country doesn’t need so many houses of worship. He argues that such a high number is only fit for bigger, more developed economies that have the means to sustain them. But this is not even the case with the more developed countries with thriving economies that e are constantly borrowing from and sucking up to so the foreign currencies keep flowing.
At this point, we should have learnt thoroughly how irrelevant it is to rely on faith for providing solutions to problems that we have been created and configured to solve. More churches is a constant indication that we still think faith is all we need to fix our every single problem. If it were, we would be eons ahead of world powers like the United States and China but we rely on them for items as basic and flimsy as toothpicks. Go figure.
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